14 July 2007

(Beer) Blast from the Past

When summer rolls around, I like to change up my beer choices a little. In winter I like to drink moderately heavy stuff--the various Sam Adams and Harpoon offerings, Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn Brewery, and of course Guinness--but in warmer weather I prefer lighter beers.

The Mexicans have the combination of decent flavor and light body down pretty well, and each year I enjoy reacquainting myself with the pleasures of ice-cold Dos Equis, Tecate, Carta Blanca, etc. (Corona is okay in a pinch, but it's kind of like drinking colored water.) I used to like Rolling Rock as my summer beer, but since it was bought by Anheuser-Busch last year and is no longer brewed in Latrobe, PA, I can't bring myself to buy it anymore.

A couple of weeks ago I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a guy who bought back the rights to the Narragansett brand and has reintroduced the beer to the marketplace, at least in New England. This was news to me, but being a born-and-raised Rhode Islander, where the beer originated back in 1890, I was curious, so on the way home from work I stopped at the liquor store. They did indeed have it, though only in 16-ounce tall-boy cans. I never buy beer in cans because drinking it tastes like drinking the can, but in the interest of, um, "research" I went ahead and got a six-pack.

I thought it might be amusing to sit on the front steps drinking it out of the can to see what sort of reaction I might get from the neighbors, but I decided that might be a little too Larry the Cable Guy. So I sat on the back porch instead, and used a glass. The results of my unscientific testing? It's not bad. It isn't going to win any awards, but it certainly tastes better than Miller or Budweiser (I've long held that I would rather drink tap water than either of those) and kind of reminds me of Coors, which is probably just a coincidence.

I'm not saying Narragansett is a great beer, but the company's new leadership understands the beer's heritage here in New England. For a couple of decades it was the official beer of the Red Sox, and for many people it was their one and only beer. Both my grandfathers and my great uncle on my mom's side were loyal Narragansett drinkers. Its recipe had been altered several times under its various owners, so the new president went to the trouble to find the company's old brewmaster to return Narragansett to its original flavor.

It was decades of ownership by companies like Pabst and brewing in places like Wisconsin that caused the world to forget about Narragansett. Currently it's being brewed in Rochester, NY, which is a lot closer than Wisconsin and close enough to be almost New England. The company president says he hopes to start brewing it in Rhode Island again next year. I think that would be great. It would be like the Rolling Rock situation in reverse: in an era when it seems like everything is the same no matter where you go, it would be nice to have something with a distinct local flavor again.

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